TOKYO • Rescue workers with dogs searched for survivors yesterday in debris-strewn landslides caused by an earthquake in Japan's northern island of Hokkaido, as electricity was restored to just over half of households.
Public broadcaster NHK put the death toll at 12, with five people unresponsive. Earlier, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said 16 had died, but Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga later clarified in updated numbers that nine had been confirmed dead and nine others were in a state of cardiopulmonary arrest, a term typically used before death is confirmed.
A further 24 people were still missing after Thursday's pre-dawn magnitude-6.7 quake, the latest deadly natural disaster to hit Japan over the past two months, coming after typhoons, floods and a record-breaking heatwave.
Nearly 5,000 Hokkaido residents spent the night in evacuation centres, where food was distributed in the morning.
"It was an anxious night with several aftershocks, but we took encouragement from being together and now we're grateful for some food," one woman told public broadcaster NHK.
Some 22,000 rescue workers had worked through the night to search for survivors, Mr Abe told an emergency meeting yesterday.
With rain forecast for yesterday afternoon and today, he urged people to be careful about loose soil that could cause unstable houses to collapse or further landslides.
"We will devote all our energy to saving lives," Mr Abe said.As of yesterday afternoon, Hokkaido Electric Power Co had restored power to 1.54 million of the island's 2.95 million households. The utility aimed to raise that number to 2.4 million, or over 80 per cent, by the end of yesterday, Industry Minister Hiroshige Seko said.
Flights resumed from midday at Hokkaido's main airport, New Chitose. The island, about the size of Austria and with 5.3 million people, is a popular tourist destination known for its mountains, lakes, rolling farmland and seafood.
Soldiers in fatigues and orange-clad rescue workers searched for survivors, picking through debris on huge mounds of earth near the epicentre in Atsuma in southern Hokkaido. All the missing people are from the Atsuma area, where dozens of landslides wrecked homes and other structures and left starkly barren hillsides.
"I just hope they can find him quickly," one unidentified man told NHK as he watched the search for his missing neighbour.
The quake damaged the big Tomato-Atsuma plant, which normally supplies half of Hokkaido's power and is located near the epicentre, forcing it to automatically shut down. That caused such instability in the grid that it tripped all other power stations on the island, causing a full blackout.